Who’s accountable when a hiring decision goes wrong? As JP illustrates in her compelling personal story, often, the employee feels ashamed and disrespected when they are exited from an organization, in her case, just five weeks after being hired. Left to guess what went wrong after no feedback and not a word from the boss, JP describes feeling like her dignity is taken. For many listeners, this will be a relatable story because something similar happened to them or someone they know. Debra and Lisa dig into the implications of this bad boss behavior for organizations and discuss ways job candidates can avoid this nightmare scenario. Tune in to Work Revolution to avoid being ghosted by your boss!
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Ghosted By The Boss
JP, how are you?
I’m good, Debra. How are you?
I’m very well, thank you. I’m grateful to you for agreeing to have this conversation. You’re going to share a story with us that is an important one to share because it’s a situation you’ve experienced that is more common than we might think or realize. I appreciate you doing that. Before we get started on that, how are you feeling about sharing this story honestly?
A little nervous. It is a bit of a punch in the gut. It is a little nerve-wracking, I would admit.
As we go along, we could talk a little bit about why that is. That’s a common feeling for people who go through restructuring, downsizing, and job loss for whatever reason. I have strong opinions about that, having done the work I’ve done for many years. It says something about where we are with corporations nowadays. We were also reminiscing about how long you and I have known each other.
It’s been a long time. I think 2011.
For several years, we’ve worked together here and there over that time span in various capacities and have always kept in touch. When you shared this story with me, I was saddened by it, but also I wasn’t that surprised. First of all, let’s start very broadly. We’re not using your full name for obvious reasons. People do feel reluctant sometimes to go on sharing stories like this one. Let’s shape out for the audience a little bit about who you are professionally. We’ll use broad, big terms about the type of work you do, industries you’ve worked in, and things like that so that we get a picture of who you are at work.
For the majority of my career, I have spent supporting C-Suite executives in the pharma, legal, and financial worlds. It’s many years of experience within that range of C-Suites.
It’s up to the CEO level. These are very senior-level executive leaders that you’re supporting. You have a decades-long year track record of doing that work. Start this story with the ending of the last period of employment with a large organization where you were supporting the CEO. Let’s start with how that ended, and we’ll go into this most recent experience.
I was supporting the CEO of a large organization. The organization is up for sales, so there was a lot of restructuring. He was part of that restructuring. Two weeks later, I received the other end of his bullet, which I could see coming. I could see quite a distance that that was going to happen. It wasn’t a surprise. It’s a little emotional. I loved working with him. He was an amazing boss. It hurts a little bit, but I expected it. I was able to come to terms with that transition fairly quickly.
How long did you two work together?
Did you work together at a prior organization as well?
We did not, but we connected instantly from my first interview. I used to work with his brother-in-law. I said to him in the interview, “You can reach out to him and speak to him.” When I started, I said, “Did you reach out to your brother-in-law?” He’s like, “No, I didn’t need to.” We just had such a great connection. The entire time that I worked with him was fabulous. There were ups and downs. There were times he drove me crazy, and I’m sure vice versa, but it truly was a great experience.
It is a bit of a unique relationship in the workplace between EA and that senior executive. There are a number of ways in which that uniqueness comes out. One of the ways is what you described. When that person leaves an organization, the EA is not far behind. Likewise, people, when they start a new role, will bring in an EA based on previous relationships and experience.
Unfortunately, that couldn’t happen with us because he took a role very far away from my home.
It’s certainly not an uncommon story in that role. What kind of feedback did you get when you were leaving that organization in terms of your contributions there?
It floored me. Hopefully, I won’t get emotional. I had no idea about the lives I had touched and the people I had touched. They sent me a card at the end. People didn’t want to just email me when I was leaving the organization. They all wanted to speak to me in person. At the time, there were not a lot of people going into the office, so I had lots of Zoom calls or Teams calls. I was truly touched by how I impacted people and their lives within the organization. I was reading the card when I was having a down day and thought, “I just need to feel good.” I couldn’t finish reading the card. I was crying because I was so touched by all the kind things people said. It’s nice to know that you can impact people’s lives in a positive way.It's nice to know that you can positively impact people's lives. Click To Tweet
That’s been recognized. It’s interesting how much work and the experiences we have at work affect us. For people, we show up as the whole person with emotions and feelings. We can’t park it.
Sometimes we’re surprised by it. I am, anyway.
Would you say although there was a disappointment, you left on a bit of a high note?
For sure. It was a stellar year for my accomplishments within the organization. I went out on a high note.
You then find yourself in the job market, which is not unknown to you. You’ve been in organizations that had restructured before and so forth. It’s common in a career nowadays. You then started an interview selection process with another organization that will describe as being a large, well-established, well-known, reputable organization in the financial services sector. Walk us through a bit about that process. I know you were being mindful about wanting to make sure you landed somewhere that was going to be a good fit, and in that type of role, how important that relationship is with the person you’re supporting. I know you were going into it being cautious.
Because I had such a great relationship with my previous boss, in the interview, the very first thing I will say is this is about fit. I have the skills. You can see this in my resume. You can talk to my previous employer. You can see I have the skills to accomplish the job. It is about fit with the executive. I had three interviews. The first interview was with the hiring manager. They wanted me to meet with the VP of HR. Apparently, that wasn’t a normal discussion to happen, but the executive valued the opinion of this particular HR business partner. I had been asked if I would meet with that person. I met with that person. It was a great conversation. It went well. I was meeting with the executive.
Funny enough, the appointment with the executive was for 30 minutes. Right off the bat, I thought, “That’s not enough time. I need more than 30 minutes to get to know an executive, and they need more than 30 minutes to get to know me if we are going to work together.” I did physically go to the office, and we had an interview. It did last longer than 30 minutes. It extended well over 60 minutes. I’m a very open person.
I’m transparent. I like to put everything on the table. Maybe I could say I’m an open book. I had lots of questions, and my questions were specific on personality, like my personality, the executive’s personality, how the executive would handle situations, and how the executive manages their team. Are they in the weeds? Do they take the 60-foot level view? How do they manage this? How do they work with their executive? With the executive assistant, what is the relationship going to be like?
I asked some very pointed questions. One that I can think of is, “If I make a mistake, how are you going to handle it? Are you going to talk to me? Are you going to be open with me? Are you going to tell me what I did wrong and how I did it wrong? Am I going to have a second chance? How are we going to deal with that?” I gave an example of an error of a mistake that I made with my previous boss in setting up a meeting and not inviting the right people and how that played out. I never made that mistake again because I learned from it.
“Making a mistake is a gift, but as an executive, how do you handle that?” Their response was, “If you make the same mistake ten times, there’s a problem. If you make a mistake once, it’s good.” That made me feel comfortable that they would speak or talk to me. I did ask what happened to the previous assistant because I always like to know, “Was it a personality issue? Did you just not work well together? Did they not have the skillset? What was the reason for the previous EA no longer filling this role?”
Maybe they could have been promoted. There’s a myriad of reasons why.
It gives you a little bit of insight as to why the role is open.
Those are a couple of pointed questions that I ask, and I’m not shy about asking pointed questions because I want to get to know you and make sure that this works both ways. It’s not just, “Can I work with the executive?” It’s, “Can the executive work with me? Can they handle my style?” I’m a go-getter. I’m a get the job done. I’m not going to sit around and twiddle my thumbs. I’m proactive, and I need them to know that. I have the confidence to do that. I felt that the interview went well. Like I said, it was well over 60 minutes. When they called the next day to make an offer, I was happy because I thought this was a good fit.
How did it go at the start? How are the first few weeks? This is a bit of an expanded role in some ways from what you’d done previously. Tell us a little bit about how you were feeling the first few weeks.
The first week was rough because I got COVID right before I started the job. The first week was a little rough. You’re learning lots of new programs, learning new things, meeting new people, and trying to recover from COVID. The brain’s a little foggy. I was impressed with how the organization was taking me through things and walking me through lots of different programs, even if I had used them previously. “We want to make sure you’re fully trained and understand how everything works.” The first week was good and considering, then the second week, I started going into the office. Honestly, I loved the role. I have led a team of admins in previous roles, maybe 5 or 6. This was a much larger admin team that I was leading globally. There are lots of different continents that the admins resided in.We want to ensure you're fully trained and understand how everything works. Click To Tweet
I was teaching the admins things, and their response was, “This is a game changer. I love this.” I was very excited. I took charge of managing the executive schedule. The executive had a busy schedule. I was enjoying it. I was implementing different processes and working with my executive, trying to streamline how we would communicate with each other. Since the executive traveled extensively, I wanted to make things as simple as I could for both of us. I was excited about the role. I was enjoying the role. I felt like I had hit the jackpot.
What then happened in week five?
In week five, my executive was on vacation. When the executive was not in the office, I could work remotely. I’m working away, and I get a Teams message, “Are you at your desk? I need to see you.” My response was, “May I ask who this is?” I didn’t recognize the name. I didn’t know many people, “I’m with HR, and I need to speak to you about a confidential matter.” The first thing that went through my mind was, “Are they letting me go?” It’s because the executive and I had not spoken about any HR issues. It was only in week five. I said, “I’m working remotely. You can Teams me.” The Teams meeting opens up, and there are two HR people in the room. I knew they were letting me go, and they just said, “It’s not working out. Close your laptop. We’ll have someone pick it up.” I was a little shocked.
What happened with the executive you were reporting to after that?
HR gave nothing. I was a little surprised because I’ve been part of the restructuring. They were always giving the reason why, whether it was performance or restructuring. There was always something. Now I recognize I was within the first three months of the probationary period, but still, a little respect. HR gave nothing. After an hour or so, I messaged the executive by text and said, “I’m very disappointed. Could I get some feedback?” If I did something wrong, I would want to know because I take pride in my work. I would never want to misrepresent or make an executive not look their best.
Part of my job is to make an executive look their best. If I did something wrong, I would like to know if it wasn’t a good fit. If they just started to see my style and didn’t like my style, I would want to know. I would want to know for my own closure. It’s like you’re dating somebody. Why is this relationship not working out? The executive said, “Sure. Next week.” That was it. I never heard anything from the executive after that. I heard from other people in the organization that the same thing happened to the previous EA when the executive was on vacation. HR called and said, “It’s not working out. Thank you very much for your service.”
I’ve done a little bit of improv training. This is going to be a weird segue. After two things happened, that’s a pattern. This is called a pattern of behavior. How did you feel when you heard that?
The shock was unbelievable. I’ve been part of restructuring before, and I was not shocked because I could see things playing out. I’m many years into my career. I see things.
We have lots of corporate experience and have been around the block, as we all have. We work in big organizations. We see this stuff plays out in large organizations a lot. If we haven’t been impacted by it ourselves, we know people who have or have family members who have. It’s pretty common.
It felt like it came out of the left field because there were no conversations, messages, or indications of, “I don’t like it done this way. I prefer it done that way. If you can’t connect with this person directly, go through their EA,” whatever. There was no indication that I was doing anything wrong or that the executive didn’t like the way I was managing things going forward. As a matter of fact, I would advise their spouse when they were traveling because their spouse didn’t travel, but this executive traveled. To manage home life, the spouse needed to be advised.
Because things changed so rapidly, I would keep the spouse updated. The spouse had emailed me twice within the five weeks, saying, “The executive loved the work you were doing. Great job.” I thought to myself, “I’ve hardly started. I don’t know what they could be loving so much, but that’s great. I’m glad to hear that.” That was the only feedback that I had in that five weeks. It definitely came out of the left field. I said I felt like I was punched in the gut, but I almost felt like not even in the gut, but almost punched in the face. It knocked me down.
What are some words you would use to describe how that felt with that feeling of being knocked down? The word disrespect comes to mind.
Honestly, I don’t even know what words, even now, just talking about the emotion that comes up within because I didn’t have the opportunity to defend myself. If I knew why, not that it’s easy to deal with, but I would be able to work through the emotions and say, “You made a mistake. It was a very serious one. You weren’t on your A game,” or it’s just the fact that our personalities didn’t blend well, “You’re too assertive for me. I’m a little more docile. That’s not how I like to work.” I can accept that. I am who I am. I’m not going to change my personality and become someone who is maybe docile, or maybe I wasn’t assertive enough. Maybe that’s a little something I could work on. You could manage it a little either way, but I can’t change my personality.
What I’m seeing is it leaves you speculating. Our brain, like a natural human nature, wants some closure, wants answers, and be able to have a clear projection of what the future looks like. You were in this grappling and searching because you were left to speculate.
It’s also the energy that I wasted on that. For two weeks, I was so sick to my stomach. I could hardly function. I messaged the hiring manager because we seemed to have a good relationship. The hiring manager said, “Please do not waste any energy on this. Close it and move on. Go forward.” That hiring manager proceeded to give me some contacts of people that I could reach out to in looking for a new role. That did make me feel a little bit better. I’m over it, except now that we are having the conversation. I have a sick feeling again. I’m not beating myself up anymore over what happened.
How has that impacted being in the job market for you again? I know it takes a bit of time. Over time, you’ll feel differently. As you thought about going back into the job market, looking at opportunities, and interviewing again, how were you feeling about that?
I’m not a timid person, but it’s a little timid. I’m working on some professional development avenues to give myself that little extra boost of confidence, reaching out to my network and slowly letting people know I’m perhaps interested in finding a new role. It’s amazing when I talk to people I’ve worked with before or people I haven’t worked with but just know me the boost of confidence that they give me when they talk to me and tell me about the amazing work that I’ve done and remind me of things.
Having those conversations and telling me, “You got it. You can do this. Remember this and that,” gives me that little boost of confidence. In the last few days, I’ve had a couple of people reach out to me about roles. It does make me feel good that I have the skills, and don’t let this incident knock you off your feet. It might knock you down a little, but don’t let it pull the rug out from underneath you. Get back up, brush yourself off, and keep going. It’s like when we tell our kids when they’re running and falling, “Push yourself up. Don’t cry. Keep going.” I’m trying to tell myself that.Don't let an incident knock you off your feet. It might knock you down, but don't let it pull the rug out from underneath you. Just get back up, brush yourself off and keep going. Click To Tweet
You’re coaching yourself through because you’ve experienced it. We take those experiences with us. We’re all impacted by the way we’re treated by other people, the way we’re treated in organizations, and our experiences. It is easy to forget those successes. When I’m working with people in career transition to go through exercises, write out accomplishment statements, and go through past performance reviews, many people are like, “I forgot I did that. I did this.” Reminding yourself of those things is empowering as we do forget them.
We tend to be so hard on ourselves that when there is something that doesn’t go quite right, we tend to fixate on that a lot more than we’re going to fixate on the things that we did well or the successes that we had. I’m glad to know that you’re getting those reminders. Here’s the last big question before we start to wrap. As you think about walking into a new company and reporting to a new executive, how has this experience impacted how you’re moving forward?
I have to think about the questions that I ask the executive. I have to do a little bit of homework or strategize on making sure that we have a conversation so I can learn a little bit more about the executive and their style. The other thing I was thinking is when you interview for a job, they will ask for and call your references. If I’m going to be working for a C-Suite executive again, I want to talk to some people who work for that executive, have worked for that executive, or have worked within that organization and get other perspectives on working with that person.
I did do that once in a job when interviewed for a job. I got the feeling that these were micromanaging types of executives. I did pointedly ask that question and categorically knew they were not. A month in, they were very much micromanagers. I left. It was not going to work. Sometimes when you ask a pointed question like that, they do not want to admit it. Maybe they see that you can see it, so they’re going to categorically refute that. Sometimes that’s not the way to go about it.
It is so tricky because you have to wonder. Like you said, “I go in transparent, honest, and direct, but is everybody operating that way? I don’t think so.” It’s like being on a first date. We’re dressed at our best, put on our makeup, and do our hair or whatever. We’ve got a bit of a face on in that process. I love this idea, by the way. When you’re checking references, there is this, “Why shouldn’t the candidate be able to check references?”
That boss relationship is going to make or break the situation. Usually, the boss has a hugely disproportionate impact on the employee experience. Why not be able to check their references? That’s an important point. At the same time, are we getting the true picture? Even a reference is not going to want to say anything negative. Are they really being truly transparent and honest? Part of the reason why we’re being anonymous with you is because, as is very common, you signed an agreement when leaving the organization.
Correct. I would not say anything disparaging. I would not speak negatively of the organization, which I understand because I would not want them to speak negatively of me. What happens if I interview someone who has a connection with that executive? Maybe that connection remembered, “JP worked there,” even though it’s not on my resume because it’s only five weeks. I would not want that executive to say anything disparaging about me. It just didn’t work out. I understand why you would have to sign something like that. You could go on any platform and start speaking negatively, and it’s just one person’s experience.
Do you see any downside to it to having that agreement in place?
It protects both parties, but at the same time, will that executive continue to display this behavior and continue? As I reflect back on different things that that executive said, I can see a couple of red flags. I didn’t see that in the interview. It was only when we started working together.
It makes sense because, to your point, even the booking of a half-hour interview, how are we going to get to know each other in half an hour, given how closely we will need to work together? I often think that there maybe should be multiple conversations that happen with someone to get to know them. It may start with something quite formal and get less formal to get to know each other. You did spend more time together, but even that booking of a half hour, to me, is quite funny. I get that we have to be efficient with our time. One of the things that strike me is that organizations put people through like a selection process. They have their process that they use to find candidates, select the top candidates to move through the process, and eventually make that hiring decision. If things don’t work out, who’s responsible for that?
They chose you. They made that decision. Could you have asked some slightly different questions? Maybe, but you don’t have a crystal ball, either. I get that that goes two ways as well. It’s not about that. Sometimes stuff doesn’t work out. It’s fine. We’re all adults. That’s partly what you’re saying, “I can handle it. I’m an adult. I’ve been around the block a couple of times.” It’s more how this was handled. If I understand you correctly, that’s the part that hurts. It’s not the fact that it didn’t work out but how it was handled.
It’s to let me have my dignity. It was a large enough organization, and there were other roles within the organization. I reflect, and I think, “Could he have said, ‘This is not working out, and I want to hire this internal person?'” which is what happened after I was let go and someone internal took the role, “There are other rules within the organization. Can I help you transition into a different role? Would you be interested in supporting someone different?” To me, that’s an option. It’s giving people that respect and dignity.
There are many different ways this could have been handled. There’s a conversation that could have been had here that was not had.
Even that, just the conversation would’ve made me feel so much better.
It’s this idea of being almost ghosted, in a way. We used the term ghosting a lot. It used to be for dating, but it comes up a lot in various employment situations, whether it’s in the interview and selection process that someone is ghosted or like what you’ve experienced where all of a sudden person goes on vacation and never see or hear from them again kind of thing. JP, I can’t thank you enough for sharing this story with us. It’s important that people share their stories. It’s empowering for other people. It shines a light on why Corporate America is having some challenges. Like I said, stories like this are not all that uncommon. Is there anything you want to say before we wrap?
Thank you for letting me share my story. If I can help one person feel better, I love to help people. If this can make one person feel better or recognize they’re not alone, it is worth bringing up that emotion again. Thank you.
I appreciate you going there. We’re human beings. We’re impacted by these things. It is a very emotional thing to go through. It is a process, but I know how great you are and how great your work is. I’ve seen that firsthand for many years. We’re going to stay connected in anything I can do to help you with the next steps. I’m going to do that for you.
Thank you very much, Debra.
Talk to you soon.
We’re back. I want to start by thanking both Debra and JP for having this conversation. I’m going to start by saying two very contradictory things. One is, I’m not surprised. I’ve heard variations of this story many times over the course of my career. In fact, it’s happened to me. I have both lived experiences. I’ve been part of other people having this experience. The other part of me that contradicts this is I’m so surprised. Why does this keep happening? We know how to do this better. We know how to recruit better. We know how to make the selection better. We know how to treat people with more dignity.
We know how people’s brains work and what they need in terms of feedback. We know so many things, yet these types of stories keep happening. It’s having a hard impact on people questioning themselves. When JP talked about her own sense of feeling her dignity was taken away, this is not what we want from organizations. If you’re not happy with our work, sit us down and talk to us. We are grownups, and we can take it. We want you to be happy. Those are my initial reactions to the conversation you had with JP. What’s going through your mind about all this, Debra?
It’s interesting to hear you say that because it’s not surprising to me because of the work I have done over many years now. I’ve sat with people in that moment of job loss. I’ve worked with many people who have shared the stories of their careers and career transitions with me. For me, it’s not that surprising, although, to your point, shockingly surprising that that’s happening. JP is particularly compelling because of how much she cares very deeply about her work. I know what level she’s operated at, the amount of experience she’s had, the commitment she has to it, and the due diligence she took upon herself going through that process. If it can happen to JP, it can happen to anybody.
The one thing I might take issue with that you said is I’m not so sure we know how to duke recruitment and selection that much better. I’m not so convinced, necessarily. This is an area that organizations are grappling with in terms of the hiring and selection processes haven’t changed that much, except we use a bit more technology. A lot of the technology is at the employer’s end to almost project manage, have a database of candidates, and have a way of tracking, organizing, and pulling data out of there. I’m not sure we’ve got a good way to hire and select people that we know match the person in a way that we know we’re making a hire that is going to perform well in the job.
There’s still a lot of throwing darts at the wall in this regard. Clearly, sometimes even when an organization makes what might look like a good hire, people are involved in this. We don’t know if it’s going to work out this idea of fit. On paper, JP was a great hire, but there was still something that this leader wasn’t getting what they wanted, or there was a mismatch from the leader’s perspective. We don’t know what that was, but clearly, the hire wasn’t. What frustrates me the most about that is that it’s the company’s process. The candidate doesn’t get to choose what the process is going to be. Although they have a little bit of agency in that process in terms of how they conduct themselves, the type of questions they ask, and things like that, it’s the company that dictates that process.
They have their hiring and selection process. If you’re hiring and selection process is selecting candidates, and then you have a leader who is making a hiring decision, and then that decision turns out not to be the right one, who’s taking accountability for that? That’s where I’m getting stuck on this one that’s frustrating for me. It’s the lack of accountability that is being taken for a hiring decision that was not appropriate. I’d be interested to hear you. What would accountability have looked like in this situation?
When JP shared that she learned that this same leader had done this same thing once before while on vacation, having some more junior HR folks deliver this news to someone after she made a hiring decision, to me, there’s no accountability there. Ultimately, that decision rested with the leader. That decision if it was the wrong one, the accountability rests with the leader. This is part of your job that you’re not doing, and you’re not being held accountable for doing a poor job. I get frustrated on that part.
How this was handled is broadcasting to anyone who’s in the organization or potential people who might be interviewing for jobs in this organization is this is a culture of zero accountability. If JP was not a good fit, that’s fine. Everybody’s not everybody else’s cup of tea, but the fact that this was handled the way it was, that’s wrong. One of the reasons HR gets a bad reputation is that HR business partners are often sent in to do cowardly leaders’ work for them. If anybody needs to be let go in this situation, frankly, it’s the senior person because he is not able to either choose people who he can work with and/or handle the fact that if it’s not working out, have a conversation.
That’s one thing that I would say. The other thing that is interesting about this situation where JP showed a ton of maturity and due diligence was when she talked about saying, “I’m a go-getter. This is what I’m about. I’m proactive.” I’m not sure. We weren’t there, but I don’t know that this leader ever made it clear by what criteria he had decided to bring her on. If, after all of these conversations, she was the person they wanted, and clearly, they called her the next day to make an offer, what could have possibly happened in that period of time?
This frustrates me because when I say we know better, there could have been a conversation with JP saying, “We want to bring you on board. We love all of these things about you. We’d like to make a job offer to you. Let us tell you that we had an issue with this leader before who rejected the previous candidate after a period of time.” Be honest. Be open. Let JP make her own decisions.
She asked specifically why that position was vacant.
In addition to there being zero accountability, it sounds like there’s a real lack of candor in this organization. As difficult as this was for her, I am so thankful that she’s not there because she deserves to be in a far better place than what this organization is, how it shows itself to be, and how it treats people.
We have to imagine that the leader, in this case, must be a high performer in some regard because they’re being protected. This seems like protectionistic behavior despite having a shortcoming in this area. This is a great example of tolerating a lack of accountability and poor performance in certain areas to prop people up in other areas. What organizations need to get a much better handle on is what the collateral damage to that is. There’s reputational damage. Even though someone like JP is not necessarily, and we are choosing not to broadcast any names here, people in her circle know, and the people in the organization know because they see it happen and see their colleagues be exited in ways. This is one example, but it’s pretty common in organizations for people to be exited in a way that doesn’t seem dignified or human-centric.
I truly believe that that is why we are seeing a general sense of a lack of trust in corporations, organizations, and leaders in some cases. If someone working in this organization is going to develop a certain belief or attitude about leaders in that company, if that’s the thing that’s tolerated, and we wonder why we’re seeing things like the Great Resignation and this term quiet quitting that’s everywhere now, that’s a natural outcome of that lack of trust that people have in organizations and this sense that they have that they’re not going to be cared for and are not necessarily going to be treated well. That can change on a dime. It could be things are going great one day for a period of time, and something shifts in the organization, and that can all change.
Most people have seen that happen, that swift change, where now people are out the door and being treated badly, whatever it is. There is a significant cost, not to mention the hard costs of going through recruitment and selection twice. How long does that typically take? That can take a year or two years to go through that entire process, make an offer, have someone exited from the organization, and go through that whole process again. That’s a time consuming, expensive process to go through. What’s the cost of all of that to the organization? This is a costly mistake. I also think that this type of thing that has been happening pretty consistently over a long period of time now is, in a general way contributing to people’s attitudes about work and this sense of disengagement that we keep hearing about, whether you call it quiet quitting or whatever terms we use. This is one of the root causes.
You’re reminding me of a team meeting I was in with a senior team of leaders, the CEO, and these executive VPs. There’s one of the leaders at the table who was a little rebellious. As much as, at times, he irritated me, I was secretly cheering on for the fact that he could say some of the things he said. One of the things that he said is, “We’re always talking about recruiting the best and the brightest, and within six months of them being here, we drilled into them that they’d better conform and shut up about the things that they think and what they want to do.” In so many organizations, the culture of conformity is so strong.
Even though people are saying, “We want original thinkers. We want to be challenged. We want to embrace failure,” the way that the culture is actually lived and experienced goes entirely against all of that. I’m wondering, in the case of JP, if there’s a desire to bring in go-getters and people who are strong, make stuff happen, and lead teams in a powerful way. The culture is such that there’s a traditional conservative way of thinking about how we do things around here. This is a cultural issue. In relation to this boss, the line I use all the time is what you permit, you promote. If you’re permitting these behaviors, you’re saying it’s okay to bring people on and let them go five weeks later.
Talk about a red flag. I can’t see beyond anything because these flags are so big. The other thing that I wanted to mention particularly and specifically about some of the things that JP said was when she reflected on this experience, she had some learnings for herself about how to investigate, “Is this going to be a good fit for me?” and doing more due diligence than she did. This is a good tip for anyone in the job market now. I know we all need money to pay our bills, and increasingly so with inflation, but we are spending chunks of our days and lives in these jobs.
Our mental health, as we know, is hugely important and a priority that we need to select places that are going to treat us with the dignity that we all deserve. That’s one. I’m glad she talked about digging into how to investigate whether you’ll be a fit in an organization. The other, which was new to me, and I’d never thought about this because I’ve signed a few nondisclosure agreements in my time, was about how it protects both parties. Essentially, you signed a document that says, “We’re going to give you a couple of dollars because we aired. We want to give you a little runway to find your next position. Also, do not see anything bad about us.” When she said that this goes both ways and that the employees are also protected, that’s a good point to raise.Our mental health is hugely important and a priority that we need to select places that are going to treat us with the dignity that we all deserve. Click To Tweet
I’m not even sure if the language in some of these documents says that. If not, it would be a wise thing for people who are signing these documents regarding the termination or being laid off to check that, in addition to no disparaging remarks made from the former employee that the organization also owes a dead of dignity in terms of potential reference checking in the future or even just bad-mouthing around the water cooler. That’s not on. I appreciated her thoughtfulness and how she regarded the situation.
The other point that I thought was interesting is she talked about, “Why shouldn’t I be able to do references on the leader if they’re checking my references?” I would be interested to hear someone’s experience with trying to experiment with asking for references from the leader, “I want to talk to 3 or 4 people who have reported to you in the past and talk about.” Why not?
This benefits everybody. You’re establishing a relationship with someone. Your income is tied to your job, role, and this relationship, so you want everyone to start off on the right foot. This is an excellent idea. What I like about it even more than the equality of it is it gives people a sense that it erodes some of the feeling of the hierarchy, where somebody was going to decide whether I’m good or bad for them. I, too, get to decide if they’re going to be good or bad for me. I’m being simplistic in my language. I love this idea.
Organizations need to start understanding that people’s attitudes about work are changing. In addition to that, we are moving into a time when we’re likely to continue to see a labor shortage. That is likely to increase. We have record-low unemployment now. I’m speaking specifically in Canada. There are lots of organizations that are having a hard time finding and retaining people. That’s not likely to get better. That’s going to continue to be a challenge. Although it’s been talked about for seemingly forever about Baby Boomers retiring, it’s starting to happen. The pandemic has somewhat accelerated the rate at which that’s happening. This is just one workplace practice. I’m going to broaden it. There are two here on the table that we’re talking about. We could dive into each of them much more deeply. They’re both deserving of a whole separate episode.
It’s the way that people are brought into the organization, and the one that I’m passionate about is the way people are exited from the organization. Both of those are key moments and key opportunities to influence what an employee’s experience of that organization’s culture really is. I’ll stick with exiting the organization. Changing that experience for people, especially if that could become a trend in organizations that organizations across the board are starting to re-look at how they’re doing this and do it differently, is just one example of a workplace practice that could go a long way in shifting around how people are treated at work and what workplace culture is like for people.
It reminds me of that line, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” You can say that you have this great culture and support people in their educational desires around building their careers. You got fleece ball tables, free coffee, and all kinds of stuff, but the way you exit people is crappy. Forget all those perks. Forget all the lovely things of trying to create a good culture. The fact that people are exited that way stays with people way more than any other positive experience.How you do anything is how you do everything. Click To Tweet
I’ve started reading one of Adam Grant’s books. You and I are big fans of Adam Grant. This is his book called Originals. I’ve only started it. At the beginning of the book, he lays the table about how people are often rejected for bringing new ideas to the table. In fact, some of the data that he has say it’s between 50% and 75% of people are feeling such pressure to conform and not bring their great ideas out and share them because of a lack of psychological safety and the way that the culture is. Organizations have no one else to blame if their cultures are not shifting when bringing great new people in.
This comes back down to what is truly valued. You and I had this experience where there are these lovely compelling values that an organization holds dear, like courage, integrity, collaboration, and respect. I’m sure there’s a much longer list than what comes to mind. When you see what actually happens inside the culture, you realize that those are just words that are in the annual report or painted on the wall in a boardroom. For organizations to live up to those values, the behaviors have to be aligned. In this, coming back to JP, I’m not sure what this organization’s values are, but I’d be willing to bet that this behavior goes against some of the things that this company says that it holds dear.
One thing is to do your homework and read the company website. I’ll add this because it popped into my head. I was coaching somebody who’s a new client to me. When I have a new client, I go to the website of the company that they work for to get a sense of what this company does, the values, the culture, and their recruiting page to get a feel. I checked this with my new client. We’re doing a get-to-know-you discovery call. I’m like, “These are some of the things I learned about your company.” The first thing he says is, “That’s all crap.” I laughed. I said, “Tell me what your experience is.” He said, “They talk a good talk, and I think they want to be that kind of company, but it is chaos here. They are great people, but this is not what it’s like to work here.” There’s some work that leaders need to do, senior leaders particularly, to create a culture with this behavior of Mr. Not Accountable is tolerated.
Let’s end on that theme of accountability. Let’s make that the theme for this show. We could get to a place where people are held accountable for their behaviors, choices, and decisions, which is universal. There aren’t people that are excluded from accountability because they are senior or special in some way. Accountability doesn’t have to be like a guillotine. Accountability is coaching. In accountability, we’re not going to necessarily say, “This leader should be sent to the gallows,” but perhaps this leader needs some coaching around this and needs some help in this regard to do this part of their job better.
Leadership requires being able to have conversations of all sorts, like objective-setting conversations, feedback conversations, and letting people go conversations. To me, that’s table stakes. It’s great that there are a whole bunch of other skills that come with building rapport with stakeholders. There’s a whole gamut of things that we hope our leaders have. To me, that essential core thing is being able to have conversations with people that uphold dignity. Every organization needs to hold everybody in that organization accountable for at least that. Yes, I completely agree with you. Thanks, Debra.
Why don’t you tell people where they can find us if they want to send us questions and comments? We’re always interested in hearing about people’s experiences. I like highlighting stories because they’re so relatable to people. As we move forward, the landscape is shifting somewhat under our feet, and we’re all trying to figure it out. Hearing people’s stories can be valuable. We welcome those as well as doing our usual digging into topics that are of interest.
Debra and I are pretty easy to find on our website at WorkRevolutionPodcast.com. You can also find us on LinkedIn, where we like to share all kinds of opinions about what we see as the great things in the new emerging workplace practices, but also some of the things that get on our nerves and we’re working to change. You can also reach out to us through our Instagram. Look for @Work_Revolution, and you will find us. We’re grateful that you’re joining us on this journey because together, we are all making workplaces healthier, happier, and hopefully with more respect and dignity. Thanks to everyone.
Thank you, lisa. Thank you, everyone, for reading.
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